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When your kids hate church

My kids don’t get excited about going to church most Sunday’s. That’s putting a nice bow on it, isn’t it?

Let’s take the pretty bow off for the sake of this post.

They hate going to church.

Yesterday, I sat in the car with a child who refused to participate. Not all Sunday’s are like that. But sometimes the feet literally stop moving and the tears start flowing. It’s hard to look in your child’s eyes and see them tearfully say “please don’t make me go,” and then force them to go.

I can’t stomach it. That is, clearly, not the type of relational connection I want my children to have with Jesus.

To my dismissive friends– it’s not just our church. It’s pretty much any church we’ve tried out. Trust me, we tried to blame the churches we attended. It’s not their fault. And it’s been going on for a very long time. Yeah, they even hated churches I worked at.

I don’t know any other way to say it. They hate going to church.

[Insert our painfully banging of heads against the wall.]

[Insert the fear of all the comments I’ll get with suggestions for how to make them love going to church. I know, it’s easy for you. Thanks in advance for reminding me I’m a failure.]

[Insert Freudian comments and Freudian comments veiled as Bible verses– trust me when I say we’ve thought them all already.]

As a parent I could get lost in the emotions of this. I mean, how is it that mom and dad can have a first love… Jesus and his church… and our kids aren’t loving what we love?

This is where the rational side of our brains takes over and comforts us.

  • We don’t want them to fake it for our sake.
  • We want to raise independent, critical thinkers. That includes giving them the freedom to question us within the boundaries of our authority over them.
  • We believe Jesus wants to capture their heart, not their body. It’s OK if that takes time. Jesus’ offer to love the church stands the test of time, he is patient.
  • We recognize that there is a difference between rejecting Jesus and not liking the action of going to church. They don’t hate Jesus, they hate going to church.
  • We believe ultimately that it’s more important that the kids go to a church their parents love than one that the kids love and the parents tolerate. I find church strategies that try to hook parents with a McDonald’s approach to kids ministry often have equally crappy methodology elsewhere.
  • We recognize that some of the reason they don’t like church is that daddy used to work at one, like 60+ hours a week. And repairing the equation that church equals dad loving other people’s kids and making other people’s kids a priority over them will take years to repair.
  • We are willing to find expressions of church they might love. We’ve introduced Awana on Wednesday nights. It is is so developmentally appropriate for them that they are really digging it. (Even though it makes dad cringe a bit.) And this summer they will go to camp. For Kristen, Awana was a big part of her middle childhood. And for me, camp was huge from about 4th grade through high school. (Even though letting them go for a week makes Kristen cringe a little bit)
  • We are willing to look in the mirror enough to recognize that being compliant at church does not equate to loving church. When I went to church as a child, I hated it and swore that I’d hate it forever.
  • We aren’t going to give up simply because they don’t count down the days until Sunday. Their attitude towards church doesn’t drive us to make stupid decisions as parents. So it’s not like we’re going to stop going to church as a family.
  • We are willing to lose the occasional battle for the sake of hopefully one day winning the war. That’s a crude way of saying we don’t force them to participate. We expect that they will, but allow them some ability to say no.

Maybe I’m not supposed to talk about this? Maybe writing this makes me look bad? Or maybe, just maybe, my kids are normal?

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

39 replies on “When your kids hate church”

Your kids are normal. What I struggle with is pride because I am a church staff member. I’m a youth pastor with a middle schooler in the program. When I give him a Sunday off I walk around worrying about what others are going to say. Sometimes I feel forced into that horrible arena of: I’ve got to be “THE” example for our church families. It’s an unrealistic expectation to put on my family.

Thanks for posting your thoughts.

I hated going to church when I was a child. My dad was a pastor, and I am one now. But I hated it. My parents always made me wear scratchy sweaters and shirts that were stiff with clip on ties. But after awhile, I came around, found friends who loved Jesus, moved to a new church, and voila-it came about.

What you are going through now is a fear that I have when my kids get old enough to start realizing when they don’t like something.

Adam, I’m pretty sure this is completely normal. My kid hasn’t gotten to the point of saying that she hates church, although sometimes she makes it clear when we get there. I always hated church because my parents made me wear pants and I wanted to wear shorts. 🙂

I think there comes a point where the idea “clicks.” Once it clicks why you’re going (assuming that’s something you want), you want to go to church. Until then, it’s just a chore. I know lots of people who still haven’t had it click.

Thanks for your brutal honesty, Adam. Your transparency is refreshing in a world that asks us to pretend and expects us to be “perfect” parents with “perfect” kids.

The problem (for me, at least,) is that it seems you’re preaching to the choir. How do we go about getting your words…or at least your sentiment…into the hands (and the minds!) of the people who really need to hear it? The ones who think this “issue” is one that has a quick–or easy–fix. The ones who tell you to “man up” and “do whatever it takes” to make your kids go to church. The ones who cast disparaging glances in your direction–or call the senior pastor–when you admit you’re struggling with issues like this? (oh, wait…am I projecting? Maybe that one’s just me.)

Anyway…thanks for sharing this. It helps. A lot.

Blame me. You can send my words to those in charge and say, “wow, I wonder how many people feel like that?”

Isn’t it crazy that we can’t just be honest with our leaders? As otters have said… It’s ok when our kids hate church. Why isn’t that coming from the leaders?

well said adam! on the otherside is the team in the church that is trying to figure it out too..how to make our kid/student ministry attractional/missional and life changing. 1 its large…its culture…its our consumer mentality…and its keeping grace hostage in the lives of those that need it.

Tom- I don’t have the answer. But I like to remind the staff at my church with this. My kids aren’t your target. That’s my job.

I’d rather my staff spend their time and resources reaching lost families than trying to figure out how to make my kids love church by using entertainment.

I guess, no, I know it comes down to choosing your battles. One family puts it this way, “On Sundays, this is what the Smith Family does. Being a part of our family means we go to church on Sundays.” Never do they ask their children to “Love It!” I tell my children it is like weekly family gatherings. Part of it is grown up talking that can be boring at times but there is also time for the children to escape out the door to be together. We don’t expect them to love all their church friends either, just tolerate them like the cousin who won’t leave you alone. When they are old enough to make their own commitment choice for themselves they can choose if they will continue to join our family at church. I have youth in my ministry whose parents force them to come to church and youth group. I tell them don’t come to our meeting if you don’t want to be here. When she began to make the choice to come, it was a much nicer meeting.

Adam,

I love this post & your remarks about the epic failure for church communities to simply try and entertain the idea of Faith and call it empowering formation! Praying for you and your family as you figure it out… prayers for a church to continue to come along side you & your family

I liked Sunday school some of the time but never really liked church, the preacher used to shout at us, just not a nice experience, plus singing ancient hymns all the time, a bit of variety would be nice , I wouldn’t mind if there was perhaps a bit of proper exegesis. I don’t like church as an adult so I only go when I really want to. I’m not sure how something can be “worship” if you’re not enjoying it. Some adults do like church. I’d miss Christmas if i didn’t go.

Adam… Great post! Mine have never balked at going to church. Yet.. It made me think, “Have I ever asked them if they like going to church?” Two weeks ago my oldest… sophomore in High School said to me on the way home from youth group. “Dad… one of these Sunday’s I’d like to stay home and just watch football!” It was like a jab to the stomach… But like Joel said above… I needed to swallow my pride. Who am I to worry that my son just wants to stay home every once and a while to watch football! If you look at the big picture he is a kid that loves God, i compassionate and sticks up for the downtrodden (the stories I could tell!)

I have rambled enough… thanks for the fodder for our dinner time discussion tonight.

This issue came up last week at our staff meeting, as a fellow co-worker/parent expressed pretty much the same thing. Thanks for sharing your struggle. I’m going to be sending my co-worker this way!

Man I am glad to see your openness. I haven’t encountered this problem. We have three ages 7, 7 and 4, they love going to church….not to crazy about going to the adult service though. They love children’s church, Sunday School, KidZone and Awana though and are disappointed when they don’t get to go to those.

But I can relate to your problem in that my wife hates going to our church. She hates the politics and the pride of the people and has disconnected from a lot of the ministries at the church. It sucks. It is obvious many times that she would rather be doing anything besides going to church. A lot of it has to do with the church we serve at robbing her of joy but my fear is that in the long run it will do to her what it seems like has happened to your kids.

My prayers are with you man. This transparency is encouraging thanks so much for this post.

Hm. Tough one. I certainly know how it feels to be dragged/forced to church, and I strongly, strongly believe it has been a huge obstacle for me in finding and belonging to a church community. No matter how much I want to be a part of a faith community, there is a part of me that remember sitting in an awful service for hours dreaming of the day that I would be an adult and could stay home and never go to church. I feel a surge of joy every time I don’t go to church. I love NOT going to church.
My guess is that at least one of your kids has to be stayed with when he refuses to go. It seems reasonable the boundaries could exist in which, if it encroaches on your right to go to church, they cannot stay home. They might not like it, but it seems fair to explain how important church is for you and that as long as their not going prevents you from going, they must also go. Then, when they are old enough to stay home alone, they increasingly gain the freedom to make their own decisions about church, knowing, like you said, that you expect and want them to go, but you won’t force them.
I know you weren’t asking for advice or anything, just working through it for myself!!

A great conversation starter. I relate to ur kids as a grown adult (ex-youth pastor/current youthworker) who loves Jesus and struggles with “going to church.” I might be so honest as to say I often hate going to church.

Don’t claim to have the answer… but maybe a question that may already be obvious to everyone but me (sorry!) but–could the problem maybe lie in the fact that we are trying to get our kids/family to love going to church vs. helping them understand what it means to BE the church? The battle should never be over attending a service at a certain place and time… the battle should be much deeper than that. Are we fighting to be a part of a community of people who truly are caring for one another while pursuing an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ? The answer to that has to be much bigger than attending and enjoying a church service. Again–not sure what that looks like practically when parenting a child.

I think it’s just one of those things that has to be done as a family and the kids need to get used to being at church. It’s kind of old fashioned but I think it works. I think that, along the way, we have to communicate to them that it’s not just an obligation for us and that, at some point, we hope it won’t be for them either. That is done through sharing your devotional life with them in age appropriate ways. The life of a Christian is not just lived at church, but worship is a real manifestation of that whole life acted out liturgically. It’s a very necessary part of any spirituality to publicly and communally give praise to God. We train that into our children by “forcing” them to go to church to lovingly modeling worship in spirit and truth.

Hi – I don’t usually comment on posts, but I wanted to tell you that I think it seems like you and your wife have the right attitude about your kids’ dislike of church (and that your kids sound pretty normal). Just the simple fact that you recognize, and through that recognition, validate their objections really speaks to the degree of understanding you have about their reasons and the desire you have to help guide, protect, and foster their relationship with God. My parents were youth pastors and then associate pastors for 20 years and church was mandatory in my family. Had I felt like I was being heard when I voiced my discontent, there definitely would’ve been a lot less all-out screaming wars and sobbing rides to church as a kid, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have a suffocating level of animosity toward the church rise up in my chest every time I hear the word mentioned (I’m working on it…).
Also, the bullet point you have about working 60+ hours a week to love someone else’s kids really resonated with me because that’s how my brother and I felt and, in weaker moments of ridiculous self-pity, continue to feel. Here are a few of the things looking back that did help or would’ve helped relieve the feeling that I wasn’t always as important as the congregants: taking a one-month break when we were between churches and doing a devotional together Sunday mornings instead of going to church (we were still little so we did Hinds Feet on High Places), finding family activities outside of church events/functions to do, my parents not skipping soccer/basketball/football games and choir/band concerts to do youth group or something church related would’ve made a big difference, turning off the phone once in a while so we weren’t constantly interrupted, and (at least when I was in high school) being candid and open to discussion about going to church instead of just “laying down the law” so to speak (regardless of the fact that in the end everyone was going to end up going to church anyway). [I’m feeling like it’s important to note that I love and appreciate my parents and I think the world of them.] Sorry this is so long, it’s just that the things your wrote were the exact things I prayed my parents would see back when I was a kid and I wanted to encourage you to continue thinking that way.

Thank you for your thoughtful and engaging comment. My hope is that by being open about the struggles in our family that other families in ministry will begin to take a good hard look at what’s happening.

We don’t pretend to have the solution on this. Just last week, one of my children told me on a Tuesday. “Daddy, I love every day of the week… except Sunday. And you know why.” The kid ought to run for office.

Maybe your kids would rather do something useful or meaningful than being indoctrinated into a pointless system of mind control and conformity.

I’m teaching a Parenting with God Sunday school class starting next week and really found this site helpful. I struggle with my 8 year old who had friends who don’t go to church. he told my husband one time, “Filip gets two Saturdays. Why don’t we do that…just sleep in and eat pancakes?”  Our first class will be on Sunday mornings. Getting up, getting out the door, our expectations for the morning and what we would like Sundays to be for our families. I’ll check in and see how things are going on this blog. Really appreciated the comment from the pastor. PKs have so much pressure on them but the pastors too have to deal with the pressure of being a role model. Hang in there!

Your children and your heart must come first, not some beliefs that may or may not be there. If Jesus, your God, or a priest told you to get rid of your children, would you do it?

Don’t make them go! Something set this universe in motion billions of years ago and since there is no proof of what did you have no right to say you know what did when you have no evidence. You sound arrogant and pretentious.

For a while there, I said, ‘If you want to be a shallow redneck and not go to church, that’s okay.” They didn’t like that connotation. I also pitted the younger ones agaist them and rewarded them more frequently. Eventually they go it on their own accord as they matured and thanked us for taking them when they were younger. Honestly, teenagers are all about rebellion and their age, and they’ll buck the things that should mean the most and waste their time on video games, weed, and iphones if you let them. Appeal to their vanity if you have to while they still know it all.

adam, thank you for this. my 6 1/2 year old hates church.and i have really been worrying about it. every other kid at our church goes to sunday school great it seems. mine refuses to go…for 6 months now. his main argument is it’s boring. it was just our church but now it seems to be all churches…and my child hates awanas too. he does love bible camp though.

Did any of you stop and think that kids these days learn more about science. Dont you know that most science contradicts the belief in religion. Just like the bible starts out saying “and god said let there be light and there was” Science proves the sun was made other way called fusion. One of these days the world will not have religion. Kids are just sick of parents shoving the church down their throats. Especially when they know better.

I remember growing up in church since I was a baby and loving it until Highschool. Unfortunately, incidents did happen to me in my elementary years, while going to bible study a teenager fondled me. It also happened when my Mom had to find church babysitters for me when Christian school let out. Plus, a relative who was an Assoc. Pastor use to kiss me unappropriately too.
That would turn alot of children off to church. As a teenager I stopped wanting to go to church.There were other kids who didn’t like going either cause we were always there. Sometimes I just wanted to sleep in. I remember a friend had his driver’s license & his parents car and while church was going on we would go for a joy ride.
Thankfully nothing ever bad happened.
I remember wanting to go when I knew my friends were going and they had youth group on Sun night. When I got into highschool we had to sit in the adult church and thought it was boring.
I also remember bad kids visiting our church trying to get girls to go to first base & smoke cigs. or weed.
It happened to me off church property and I was so embarrassed & thought he told all the other kids I never went back. I got a job where I had to work every Sun.
If your young and don’t have friends at church or an incident happens its really hard to want to go back.
Here’s what happened next. After Highschool I moved out of my house at 19 cause my Mom was so strict & I fell in love with a boy I worked with. He wasn’t christian which was a big mistake I made. But I did get him saved & we went to church numerous times together. We ended up eventually getting married and stayed together 10 years. He got me into weed and I was stoned for 10 yrs & even got pregnant at 20 an had an abortion. I’m very ashamed of having an abortion cause of his Mom’s persuading advice and she didn’t want to help us. I was too scared to tell my Mom and knew it was wrong but we were young scared broke and selfish. I was working and going to college. My husband worked at a dead end job with a bunch of beer drinking pot smoking, & sometimes cocaine using coworkers. He eventually made my life hell when he started doing harder drugs and became an alcoholic who became abusive at times.
My marriage was horrible so I went back to church rededicated my life back to Jesus & got Baptized. My marriage got worse and I remember the Preacher saying if your in a abusive marriage, Get Out! So I did and got divorced cause he tried to choke me to death. I prayed hard to the Lord that night I wouldn’t die. He was no longer the man I knew. Another time I locked myself in the restroom and he was punching holes in the door. I saw his eyes thru the holes. His eyes didn’t look like his eyes but they looked like demons coming to get me. Thankfully I got away that night.
I can see how Satan tried to rob, kill & destroy me. Thankfully I had a praying Mother & I never forgot about my faith in Jesus. I remember calling her through out those years and asking her to pray for me. I never told her back then I was in an abusive relationship. I always knew God listened to her prayers.
So take your kids to church often when they are young and maybe every other week off when they are 15 plus. There are many sermons they can watch on tv and online now. Instill Gods love when they are little so their Faith will always be in their heart when the storms of life come and they will know what to do and know right from wrong.
I also have 3 siblings forced to go to church too & they accepted Christ when they were young. None of them are serving God now and don’t know why. I have seen God give them warnings & a second chance at life when one almost died. We all went to public highschool and college and were influenced by nonchristian friends and professors and the partying lifestyle. I am still praying for my siblings to give their life back to God.
No, we weren’t Pastors kids but we had a Mom who loved the Lord and worshipping God & wanted to be at church. 42 years later she is still there at the same church every Sunday and now we are there right beside her while my children are loving Kids church. My second marriage I wised up and married a christian husband and we have something in common, we both love to sing praises & worship God together. Sorry so long but I wanted to tell my story.

And sometimes your kids are atheists. They may never come to believe as you do. Many Christians console themselves with the idea thats onetime they’ll come to believe as they do. But that is naive because stats tell us the opposite, that it’s unlikely most atheists will never convert. Most atheist kids will remain atheist for the rest of their lives and that’s something you need to accept and respect.

Thank you for your transparency, our family is in a season where church has become a struggle for everyone. Sometimes it just feels so inauthentic, and even though we try to join in we just don’t ever feel like we belong. I wonder sometimes if these feelings are some of the obstacles that keep our kids from wanting to be at church. More important to me than church on Sundays, is that my kids get to know their Creator and Savior. For the time being we have decided to lead our kids at home on Sundays, keeping it simple and on point. We also take time to spend this day with our hearts focused on God, we’ve gone hiking to draw close to Him hrough his creation and we’ve wrote letters to those in a drug recovery center to love as Jesus does those that are really struggling. This is something we’ve just started and I don’t know how God will use this season or where it will lead, but I beleive that he will take our efforts and work this for our good. Thank you for your encouragement and honesty that we can relate to!
Blessings

My kids hated church.It seems specially Youth are just into fashion,If you are not inn you dont belong to there group.Mind you they would not even approach you If you are poorly dress.Mostly adults plays “Im better than you”,Hoping to find a caring,loving church who values everone in all walks of life.

It ’twas Christmas Eve, so long ago, I was participating at midnight mass. During the Our Father I suddenly had to pass gas. I knew if I popped too loudly I’d be deemed someone of a lower class. Feeling my gut rumble this was a cause for alarm. I certainly didn’t want to do any harm. I sat up straight and held my breath, hoping the fluids in my bowels would simmer down. Grinning like a clown, my face on fire, I knew I’d be talk of the town. Suddenly with dread all hell broke loose, I felt like I’d just passed a liquified caboose. I farted a gully washer on the antique church’s wooden pew. With a smell was so bad, the congregation mad, I glanced at my dad who was ready to gag. I withdrew myself from the pew, with my backside looking like I sat in beef stew. I waddled briskly down the long church isle at pace that seemed like an eternity. Many angry eyes struck me by surprise, as a flock of house flies hovered close by to my soiled trousers. I could see the trail I left behind and many noses held closed by gnarled old fingers. I made it to the church’s restroom and peeled of my soiled britches. I was cloaked in poo poo all the way up to my waist. In great haste I flushed my soiled briefs causing the old commode to regurgitate my waste. With the bathroom floor flooded it was time to jump ship, I began to run but quickly tripped. I fell face down into my soiled trousers in hand, I looked as though I was donning a yellow brown beard. Regaining my composure the church’s organ was heard. The rumbling of the old organ pipes above rattled the waterlogged bathroom, causing me to have another colon crisis. Amongst the belching toilet water, the bathroom floor was now awashed in golden brown diarrhea. Wrapped in swaths of paper towels I escaped the confines of the church. Running down the block I was told to halt by and angry cop. I told him of my dilemma and he chuckled and said, “You certainly don’t need an enema.” He offered to take me home but I declined, running with all my might on this holy night. I made it home but no one was there. Chilled to the bone I shaked and shivered, then in the horizon a shimmering light shone; I knew for now I wasn’t alone. My family had come home after several hours. I was scolded and spanked for disgracing a house of God, especially on little Jesus’ birthday. After my mom and dad spanked me, their hands all brown and slimy, they shoved me inside like a cheap and cheesy bride. I sat in a hot bathtub and rubbed and rubbed with a box of Borax and a dousing of Soilax. I rose from the tub all red and bruised and forced to come downstairs to engage in more ruse. Mother and father insisted that I bear witness to Jesus’ birth, even though it had absolutely no worth. Listening to the tinkly strains of “Silent Night” played on mother’s Christmas time, swiss made music box, suddenly aroused my overactive colon once again. Sounding my need to retreat to the bathroom, my needs were ignored by my parents’ due ignorance. A rousing rumble in my gut greatly overpowered the music box’s feeble tinkle. With no time to make a clean getaway, my bowels roared like a den of hungry lions. All over the living room floor my runny poo poo left its mark. Even the Christmas presents had my personal calling card endelibly stained on the delicate wrapping paper and bows. Both my parents passed out in sheer disdain, I knew I’d be in for more spanking and pain. After the holiday may lay was over, I was forced to go to confession and plead with God, Jesus and Mother Mary to forgive me for disgracing baby Jesus’ birthday. But during confession the inevitable occurred: my gut began to rumble……….

I almost pissed myself reading your story. Mine is not so different. I do not remember my baptism as I was just an infant but my mother tells me that during the baptism ceremony, I crapped in my diaper a real hum dinger. The whole area reeked of liquid baby poo so bad people in the vicinity were gagging and wincing. What a fitting thing for a later to be atheist.

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